Does your child get off track? Here’s a game plan for getting back on!

Dear Carrie

What can I do when my son gets off track and drags out his day?

We figured out a schedule for our school days last week that worked really well! (Thanks Heart of Dakota – great idea!) We did our son’s English/DITHOR mostly orally and had set blocks of time for work. I thought we’d solved the main issue, which was my oldest dragging out his day and getting off track by complaining and not doing his writing. Today was going really well until he didn’t get his cursive done. He said he would do it during his free time. I said okay, not thinking it would be a big deal. Then, we got to science, which was a notebooking assignment. He had to copy a kind of long Bible verse. But, he had not been required to do much writing at all today. I mean, is that really asking too much?!?

He has good handwriting. I think he just doesn’t want to do it. He has cried, complained, said he was too tired (so I had him go to bed for a bit to rest, which got him further off track). Now, he has lost outside time. He said he didn’t want to go out today anyway (so not true – he loves to be outside). Now, I’m taking away his tv time (sometimes they can watch one show after nap). How do I fix this? I like to get school done, but he is again getting off track and dragging things out. I would appreciate any suggestions! He is such a good boy and very bright, usually obedient. It just seems he doesn’t want to do any amount of writing. How can I keep my son on track and happily moving on through his school day?

Sincerely,

“Ms. Please Help My Son Stop Getting Off Track and Dragging Out His School Day”

Dear “Ms. Please Help My Son Stop Getting Off Track and Dragging Out His School Day,”

With my boys, once we began implementing a schedule, I looked at the times on the schedule as a general rule of thumb rather than legalistic times. So, for instance if something on the schedule is meant to take 15 minutes, as long as the child is working, I allow a bit more time if needed (like 5-15 extra minutes). Once I can see we are stretching beyond that and are headed toward getting far enough off track that we soon can’t recover, I jump in and help the child recover if at all possible.

Getting Back on Track and Happily Moving Through the Day

To get back on track, I might do all of an English lesson orally, assigning none to be done on paper. Or, I may write out the math problems from the textbook to help the child move more quickly. I might downsize a math assignment a bit if needed. Or, I might put away or set out a child’s materials open to the needed pages to move him along. I may write a younger child’s answers to DITHOR, while he dictates them to me to save time.

Or, I might sit right by a child pointing out text or redirecting while he works to keep him on task. I might read directions aloud from an older child’s guide while he follows them. Or, I might send the kiddos for a much needed break, while I quickly check their work to see why they might have gotten off track. Anyway, these are just a few ideas of how you can partner with your kiddos to keep them on track and happily moving through their day.

Fixing an Off-Track School Day with a “Finish School” Time

Next, I’ll share that I have a “finish school” time in the afternoon for my third son. This is a 45 minute block of time that is a part of his schedule (after his lunch, recess, and work in the warehouse break). This is a time where he returns to his schoolwork and finishes anything he did not finish earlier during the school day. This works well for him right now! He has learned he prefers to get it done then rather than have it left in the evening. However, when we were training him in diligent work habits when he was younger, we had a work time in the evening after supper when he worked with his Dad on anything he had not finished during the school day with me. This worked well, as it was Dad who enforced the finishing rather than me!

Getting Your Son’s Handwriting Back on Track

In your son’s case, when he begins melting down over the handwriting, I would jump in to stem the tide right away. You can say something like… “Alright, I can see that you are overwhelmed with the amount of copy work today! You will have to work up to doing all of it eventually. However, to help you today, since it is a longer passage, I will write the first sentence (or two) to get you started. Then, you need to dry your eyes and get going with the rest. Let’s see how much you can get done then in 10 minutes if you work hard the whole time.” Often, once kiddos see the length reducing before they begin, they feel more able to do it. This is true of any assignment they find overwhelming!

Encourage diligent work, but still require the work to be done.

Then, head away to do something else after setting the 10 minute timer. Be sure he knows he doesn’t have to finish in that amount of time. He just needs to work diligently. If you return and he has shown progress, he can either finish (if he’s close to done) or set it aside to do the rest later. If he has chosen not to progress in the 10 minutes, simply let him know this means he’ll have to finish it later. Then, set the work aside to be done at the later time you’ve designated for leftover work (either in the evening with Dad or in the late afternoon).

Partner with your child, but if a consequence is still needed, award it only one time in the day.

If he does not work hard during the leftover work time, then you award the consequence at that time. This means you are giving the child every chance to succeed without drawing battle lines all throughout the day. You’ll only have one time that you award the consequence. You want your child to see you are partnering with them to get their work done instead of lying in wait to take away privileges. (Even though you really aren’t, they see it that way!)

Also, if the child ends up with quite a pile of work to finish during the “leftover work” time, both you and your husband (and your child) will be able to see that the day wasn’t very productive. You can discuss ways to do better the next day then. But again, you are partnering with the child to help them be successful. Anyway, these are just some thoughts you can ponder to see what might work in your family when your son gets off track.

Blessings,

Carrie

Building better writing habits… one step at a time!

Heart of Dakota Life

Building better writing habits… one step at a time!

Red pens can make people shudder. Why? Well, red pens used to be a teacher’s weapon of choice for tearing a written paper to shreds – all in the name of ‘correcting’ or ‘editing.’ I always enjoyed writing, but I had a friend who didn’t. He tried so hard, but writing was just not his thing. I remember him getting a paper he’d written back from the teacher with more red on it than any color. He was embarrassed and devastated. He also didn’t know where to begin to be a better writer. I wanted to help him but felt pretty defeated too. Where do you begin when everything is wrong? Well, you build better writing habits just like you build any structure you want to be solid…  one step at a time.

Choose the first step carefully – success is a must!

For kiddos to feel confident in building their writing skills, it is important to focus on improving one skill at a time. I choose the first step to building a better writer carefully. Children need to experience success. For little ones, proper formation of letters is important. Spending time by their side to encourage and gently correct mistakes helps prevent poor habits. Heart of Dakota’s handwriting programs in Little Hearts for His Glory can help instill these good habits. Once students move past writing letters well, the next concern is often spacing issues. Their words might all run together. Or, they may not use the top, dotted, and bottom lines as stopping places. Building a better writer begins with the step of helping them recognize how to correct spacing issues. Below, you can see some ways I addressed this with our sons.

Other Steps to Building a Better Writer

Once children have learned proper letter formation and spacing, often the next step to building a better writer is simply shrinking their writing. Moving from handwriting paper to wide-lined notebook paper is a step that takes much encouragement. As students shrink their writing, often times legibility and spacing becomes an issue again. One of my sons began making the letter “s” with no curve – essentially, every letter “s” looked like the letter “l”. Another son didn’t close his vowels. Basically every letter “a” and every letter “o” looked like the letter “u”.  My nephew wrote every lowercase “r” as a giant “r,” as tall as a capital letter. Another nephew wrote microscopically small. One of my sons put large spaces in the middle of bigger words, making them look like two words. Each of these steps were patiently tackled, one at a time.

Further Steps to Building a Better Writer

Once letter formation, spacing, shrinking, and legibility have been tackled, often times spelling is next. There are many steps to building a better speller. Blessedly, Heart of Dakota makes this maze of how to begin to build a better speller easier. Spelling tips in the Appendix include a hierarchy of steps to work through. Beginning steps involve more parent help. Ending steps promote more independent spelling helps. More mature steps to build a better writer come next. Maybe students need to use better transition words. Or, maybe they need to vary the length of their sentences. It could be they need to use more descriptive words. Or, maybe they need to do a better job of choosing their topic. Heart of Dakota’s editing list, R & S English’s lessons, and formal writing programs’ instructions in each guide help each step of the way. So, here’s to building better writers – one step at a time!

In Christ,
Julie

 

 

 

 

How can I improve my 11-year-old’s writing and independence in CTC?

Dear Carrie

What can I do to improve my 11-year-old son’s writing and level of independence in CTC?

My 11-year-old son is combined with his advanced 12-year-old sister in Creation to Christ. Writing is hard for him, so I write down the events as I read the history. Then, he uses that list to type his written narration. He needs so much hand holding! He does have some learning issues, as well as dysgraphia. My kids were not independent in Preparing Hearts. My goal in CTC was to gradually have them gain independence, as we moved along. So, they read the science, but I’ve still been reading aloud the history. My daughter could read the history and understand it. But, my son could not! He’s even struggling reading Gentle Ben in DITHOR. I just don’t want school to be frustrating for him. He LOVES history and geography! I want him to continue to do so. Help! What can I do to improve my son’s writing and independence?

Sincerely,

“Ms. Please Help My Son in CTC Improve His Writing and Independence”

Dear “Ms. Please Help My Son in CTC Improve His Writing and His Independence,”

Thanks so much for sharing about your situation. In looking at your kiddos, how important is it for you to keep them together? The reason I ask is because you could consider having your son go back and do Preparing Hearts without his older sibling. He could do the history readings independently, as well as the science and independent history box as much as possible. As he didn’t do these things independently before, it is possible it won’t feel like so much of a repeat. Plus, when you read material to yourself and follow directions in the guide on your own, often the assignment will turn out differently.

Doing all of the projects, activities, and written assignments in Preparing Hearts could improve his work in all the future guides.

Did your son do pretty much all of the projects, activities, and written assignments in Preparing (or did you downsize, skip, or change assignments to fit him better)? The reason I ask is because if you did downsize, skip, or change it may not be as much of a repeat as you’d think for him to do Preparing. Plus, it is possible that in the long haul this will be a better fit for him for all the future guides which come after Preparing.

Your daughter can begin reading the CTC history to herself, as well do the rest of the “I” boxes independently.

As far as your older child goes, I would have her gain more independence by starting to read the CTC history to herself now, since she is able to do it. I would continue having her read her science on her own. I would also encourage you to have her do all of the ‘I’ independent boxes as much on her own as possible, with help from you when she hits a roadblock. You can go over directions with her, but let her have the guide to work on her ‘I’ independent boxes as much as she can on her own. I want to encourage you that this will bless all of you eventually. Your daughter will feel more grown-up, and you will have more time to be with your son to improve his work.

Otherwise, your son could work toward more independence in CTC eventually.

If returning to Preparing does not seem like a fit, you could consider teaching your son more in CTC than we plan, with the thought of moving him toward more independence eventually. I would not hold your daughter back from working independently to do this. Instead, I would let her do the assignments as close to the way they were intended as possible. This means you would work more with your son, but let your daughter be more on her own. Since you shared that your son is able to read the science readings in CTC independently, I would be inclined to think that he could also read the history readings on his own to some extent. This is because the science readings in Land Animals are fairly difficult and are not as far away from the level of the history readings as you’d think.

You could alternate reading by paragraph with him at first.

You could potentially alternate reading by paragraph with him through the history readings, eventually handing more independence over to him. Just know that it is alright if he doesn’t pronounce everything correctly. Students reading to themselves don’t pronounce everything correctly either! If he is able to do most of CTC as written, with the exception of the independent readings, this may be an option.

If you try this and end up modifying almost all of CTC’s written work and readings, I’d place him in Preparing instead.

On the other hand, if you end up modifying almost all of his written work in CTC one way or another, and are modifying the readings by reading them aloud too, then I would be inclined to think he is in over his head in most areas. In this case, he would benefit from Preparing instead. I share this because if you were a new family just coming to HOD for the first time, I would lean heavily toward placing your son in Preparing and your daughter in CTC.

The “Written Narration Tips” are helpful for kiddos who struggle with written narrations.

As far as written narrations go, it’s a good idea to refer to the Written Narration Tips (Teacher’s List) in the back of the CTC guide. This helps give some perspective on how to handle written narrations. There are some tips for kiddos who struggle with written narrations that are very helpful. So, I encourage you to take a look at those as soon as you get a chance.

You can use the helps within the daily plans for writing as well. 

Also, make sure to use the helps within the daily plans of CTC for written narrations as well. Have your kiddos begin by copying the sentence starter provided in the written narration directions box on written narration day. Then, have your kiddos answer their way through the questions provided in the box as a guide for their narration. They can honestly write a one-sentence answer for each question and end up with a good written narration. These helps in CTC bow out more and more as the year progresses. However, they are a huge help in narrating to start. They remain in the Preparing box for written narrations all year though. So, if you do decide to place your son in Preparing those helps would remain.

Balance is key, but we want his year to be joyful – to stretch him a bit but not pull him to the breaking point!

As we ponder options for your son, I want his school year to improve to be joyful and to stretch him a bit but not pull him to the breaking point! Balance is key, and kiddos with challenges need a special dose of grace and very incremental steps to higher expectations skill-wise. Teaching kiddos with learning challenges is a special calling. I know the Lord has equipped you for this task, or He would not have given your son to you. It may be that his areas of challenge are just showing themselves a bit more now as his sister is older and is gaining faster than he is (and rightfully so due to her age). Sometimes the gap between kiddos takes awhile to show itself. It may be that it is just showing itself more now. This just may be the course their academic growth is taking.

Blessings,
Carrie

How does the writing in Resurrection to Reformation build good writers?

Dear Carrie

Can you tell me a little about the writing in Resurrection to Reformation? I know it’s Medieval History-Based Writing using IEW. However, I know there are other things that round out writing too. Are there any other things you can tell me about the writing in Resurrection to Reformation? We are using Heart of Dakota’s Creation to Christ now. However, we did an online class for writing instead of what was planned in Creation to Christ. We are not liking the online class. I wish we had just stuck with the writing in CTC. I’m just thinking ahead for next year when we move up to Resurrection to Reformation. I want my son to be a strong writer. I am familiar with IEW, but I want to know more about the rest of the writing in RTR. Thanks in advance!

Sincerely,

“Ms. Please Help Me Build a Strong Writer”

Dear “Ms. Please Help Me Build a Strong Writer,”

One thing to keep in mind about writing is that it is a skill progressive subject. Some kiddos are more natural writers than others. However, all kiddos can learn to be writers if they are regularly exposed to great writing. Students are exposed to great writing through the literature that they read in Heart of Dakota (HOD). They become even better writers by receiving practice in modeling great writing. Students do this through oral and written narration in HOD. They become still better writers when they are taught strong grammar and sentence-building skills by using an excellent English program. This is why students use Rod and Staff English in HOD. Finally, students become the very best writers they can be by rounding out their writing repertoire by being taught the specific skills of writing. This is why students use various formal writing programs in HOD.

The skills needed to progress as a writer come from many different areas.

So, you can see that the skills needed to progress as a writer come from many different areas. We strive to address all of these areas within HOD. This means that as the student progresses down the HOD path, he/she will gain the skills needed to become a better writer (incrementally a little at a time). This also means that depending on how much experience the child is gaining in each of these areas, he/she may have a differing level of success with the various writing programs within HOD from other students.

The child’s literature, narration, grammar, dictation, and writing experience in HOD work together to eventually produce a writer!

So, while it may seem like certain writing programs work better for certain kiddos, it truly is the sum total of the child’s literature/narration/grammar/dictation/writing experiences that add up to success. This is why when looking at writing to help place a student in a Heart of Dakota guide, we typically ask questions about the other language arts areas as well. All of these areas work together to eventually produce a writer!

Students new to HOD should begin with the writing program that is in the guide they placed.

For those who are new to HOD, we typically suggest beginning with the writing program that is within whatever HOD guide the student ends up using for the rest of his/her day. This is because the student will make gains as we begin addressing all areas needed to improve as a writer throughout the daily plans. The writing program is just one component of that progress.

Each writing program within HOD emphasizes a different facet of writing and is kept in balance with the rest of the written assignments in the guide.

Yet, each writing program within HOD is selected to emphasize a different facet of writing. It is scheduled to give balance to a child’s school day (keeping in mind all other subjects and the volume of writing within those). So, your child will also feel better balanced skill-wise and time-wise if he/she does the writing program scheduled within the guide. The writing programs are also scheduled with the parent’s teaching time in mind, providing an ebb and flow from guide to guide. So, there are many benefits to doing the writing programs scheduled within your guide.   Of course, it is fine to borrow a program from a previous guide, if you feel your child will be overly challenged with the program scheduled in your current guide.

Blessings,
Carrie

Should ‘In Their Sandals’ writing pieces be a certain length?

Dear Carrie

Should I push for my son’s ‘In Their Sandals’ writing pieces to be a certain length?
My son is using In Their Sandals with the U.S. History I guide. He is finishing up his first story. The directions say that there isn’t a set amount of words, number of paragraphs or length required. My son is one who isn’t going to write something lengthy unless directions specifically say to do that. His first story has good sentence structure and vocabulary. It tells the story, but there isn’t a lot of extras. It is fairly short. So, my question is, what if children don’t write very long stories?  And if so, would you say that was okay? Or, should I push for him to make his stories a certain length or number of words? My son and I are both used to EIW where you knew exactly what was expected in the previous Heart of Dakota guides. So, this one is just a little tougher for me to grade and figure out expectations.
Sincerely,
“Ms. Please Help Me with Length Expectations of In Their Sandals Writing Assignments”
Dear “Ms. Please Help Me with Length Expectations of ‘In Their Sandals’ Writing Assignments,”

As we did In Their Sandals, I found that the length of my son’s writings varied quite a bit throughout the year. Since this writing program has more of a creative writing bent, I think that it’s fine to have pretty big variations in length. Grading-wise, as long as my son did a good job completing the planning sheets, made sure to include what was asked of him in the writing, tried to apply the grammar/writing tools mentioned, and did his best proofing and editing, I allowed quite a bit of leeway in the length. This is because for this program it is meant to be freeing for the students not to have a set length to attain. Rather, students can write in a way that suits their intended purpose.

One goal for ‘In Their Sandals’ is to encourage development of a student’s voice, so there are purposefully fewer constraints and greater leeway in length requirements.

For In Their Sandals, if we place a certain length requirement on the student, he/she will begin writing to attain the length rather than allowing the writing be whatever length it needs to be in order fulfill the idea in his/her head. Freedom in writing – figuring out how to take an idea from its inception to finish – with fewer constraints is actually a skill to be developed for this year of writing. It can be tough to write outside of a formula, yet that is where a student’s voice develops and appears. From what you’ve shared, it sounds like your son did very well with this first assignment. I would be pleased with his work.

Blessings,
Carrie

P.S. Check out our Top Ten Christian Homeschool Questions!